Jan 132011
His Master's Voice by Metrix X, on Flickr
His Master’s Voice by Metrix X, on Flickr

If you are the keeper of important audio recordings—grooved disks, magnetic tape, CD-ROM and the like—you may wish to carefully assess their physical condition at some point.  This assessment can be for the purpose of a basic inventory, identification of preservation needs or setting priorities for activities such as creating digital copies.

Before you get started, you may wish to consult Issues and Answers in Digitization: Audio: Digitizing for the Future, which summarizes a Library of Congress workshop held in December 2010.  This document describes four preservation assessment tools.  The tools are designed identify preservation issues for various types of recording media.

  1. Visual and Playback Inspection Ratings System (ViPIRS), New York University Libraries.  For magnetic media (videotape, audiocassettes, and 1/4″ reel-to-reel). Assesses the condition of the item, the item’s ability to be played back, and the ease or difficulty of conserving/preserving/reformatting the item. The accumulated score at the end of the inspection generates a numerical rating that informs the user on what steps need next be taken in the preservation process.  For basic to intermediate users.
  2. Audio/Moving Image Survey Instrument, Columbia University Library.  Provides a mechanism for setting preservation priorities based on (1) quantities and types of audio and moving image materials, (2) the physical condition of the media and their housings based on visual inspection, (3) information about existing levels of intellectual control and intellectual property rights, and (4) the potential research value of each collection. .  For basic to intermediate users.
  3. Field Audio Collection Evaluation Tool (FACET), Indiana University Digital Library Program.  Ranks audio field collections based on preservation condition, including the level of deterioration they exhibit and the degree of risk they carry. It assesses the characteristics, preservation problems, and modes of deterioration associated with the following formats: open reel tape (polyester, acetate, paper and PVC bases), analog audio cassettes, DAT (Digital Audio Tape), lacquer discs, aluminum discs, and wire recordings.  For advanced users.
  4. Audiovisual Self Assessment Program (AvSAP), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Helps identify format type, physical condition, and storage conditions.  Available either as web-based software or as part of a larger Archon software package, which calls for some technical knowledge to install and configure.   For basic to intermediate users.
Dec 292010

Much news came from the recent announcement that the Library of Congress was adding 25 new titles to the National Film Registry for permanent preservation.  This assortment of “Hollywood classics, documentaries and innovative shorts reflecting genres from every era of American filmmaking,” were selected because they are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

02.23.38.jpg by footage, on Flickr

Amid all the hoopla, it is worth bearing in mind that there are many, many other film and video productions that provide a different kind of significance, one that provides unique historical–and sociological–insight.  These are “ephemeral films,” which consist of everything from anti-drug dramas to car advertisements.  Rick Prelinger is a long-time champion of these productions, and he provides access to over 2,000 titles through the Internet Archive. Equally important, the information has been placed in the public domain under a Creative Commons license.

While titles such as Good Table Manners, Duck and Cover, and Are You Popular? never won an Oscar, they do document certain idealized behaviors and mindsets from the past.  On this basis, the Library of Congress acquired over 48,000 titles from Prelinger in 2002.

Announcing the acquisition, the Librarian of Congress noted that the films are “quite distinct from that found in Hollywood feature films and newsreels. These are the films that children watched in the classroom, that workers viewed in their union halls, that advertisers presented in corporate boardrooms, and that homemakers saw at women’s club meetings.”

Our collective history is richer with the preservation of the Prelinger collection.  With apologies to Baudelaire, we now have the chance to extract eternal knowledge from ephemeral films.